I don't own Xanth or any of the characters in it. Only Nova and Chey belong to me. Piers Anthony gets all the credit for the loverliness of Xanth.
This story is a dream that I had one night. It is NOT a one-shot… just to warn you. There is a heck of a lot more where this came from. If it seems cheesy or badly-written, it's because I wrote the whole thing in three days and I edit as I go. ;) Enjoy.
Chapter 1; The Journey Begins
Nova snorted, sounding very horsy as she did so. And why wouldn't she? She was a centaur. The girl was human from the waist up, and equine from the waist down. Her coat was brown, laced with gold, as was her unruly mop of hair and mane. Her skin was darker than cream, but lighter than black, somewhere in the golden brown side of the spectrum. Her tail, surprisingly, was almost pure gold, mixed intermittently with strands of brown. She would have pondered this strange twist of genetics, but now was not the time for pondering. A horde of goblins surrounded her, menacing her with clubs and spears and grinning evilly.
"This one will give us plenty to eat." Said one, licking his lips expectantly. But his neighbor looked troubled.
"But why is she wearing clothes? Centaurs don't wear clothes." It was true- Nova had ditched her suddenly tight-fitting shirt in favor of a makeshift harness that covered her female-parts. For her journey through this strange land, she had taken on the form of a centaur, and apparently, centaurs were more- uh- developed that normal human girls. In reality, she was a shapeshifter, able to become any animal she pleased (except for vampire, zombie, werewolf, or just about anything undead). Feeling somehow bolder than normal, Nova spoke for the first time since encountering the ugly little men.
"I want no business with goblins. I wish only to travel in peace to my own home." Her fair soprano voice was quiet, but the nearest goblins heard it. One laughed derisively, and jabbed her in her human stomach with the tip of his club.
"Oh, no. Sorry, horse-rear, but you're stayin' here so us'ns can eat." Nova bit her tongue, refraining from correcting his atrocious grammar. The filly dug her hooves in (this was somewhat difficult, as the ground was rocky and hard), refusing to budge. There was no way these goblins could move her. Her mass was at least six times any one of the goblins. The apparent leader smiled. This did not improve his countenance at all. His face more closely resembled churned-up mud with an old moldy potato for a nose than anything remotely human. Making a queer signal with his hand, the leader stepped aside, leaving a clear path in front of the young centaur. Suddenly, a sharp pain pricked her equine hindquarters, causing her to leap forward, surprised. One of the goblins had poked her hindquarters with a spear, awakening her buried instinct and causing her to move forward, away from the pain- and right toward the entrance of the goblin's tunnel.
"Oh, crud…" Nova realized there was no way out. The only way she could get away from these meat-eating little terrors was if she could fly over them- An idea struck her, causing a light bulb to flash over her head. Flying. Jumping. She could jump over the goblins. The thought had not occurred to her before, because it was beyond two-legged capabilities. But what about centaurs? With the running and jumping power of a horse, it could be done. Better yet, what about kicking? She glanced about. There was no room for her to get the running start required to jump. Making her decision, Nova struck out with her fore-hooves, rearing to do so. The goblins scattered, and then regrouped to the side. Pivoting on her two front feet, the brown filly kicked out with her back feet, one hoof connecting with something soft that went "crunch". With the goblins in a confused and milling crowd, Nova wheeled and bolted away from them, galloping as fast as she could away from the danger.
Some part of her brain told her it was merely luck that the goblins had not anticipated her actions, while the rest of it was just happy not to be goblin-chow. Gradually, Nova slowed from a gallop to a canter, then to a trot, then finally to a walk. Coming to a halt, breathing hard, the sixteen-year-old looked around at her surroundings. She was completely lost in a thick jungle, surrounded by towering trees and strange foliage. Brushing a hank of sweat-darkened hair out of her face, Nova sighed. This was not exactly an ideal situation. A commotion off to her left made the filly start, then stop, listening. Maybe it was someone who could tell her where she was! Turning in that direction, she pushed through a bush, and found a path. What luck! Along that path, around a bend, the commotion continued, sounding like paws repeatedly striking the hard-packed dirt path. Rounding the corner, Nova bit back a small scream, and backed up as fast as her four legs would allow. Around the corner was not a person, but a dragon! It was a medium-sized fire-breather, pounding its way down the trail. Unfortunately, it was already coming right at her, and it saw the filly as she came around the bend, now it lunged forward, seeing her as a potential snack.
The little scream Nova had bit back before was now a fully-fledged maiden's scream of horror, and she opened her mouth to let it fly, startling the dragon. It slowed momentarily; giving her time to realize that the best thing to do would be to run. Wheeling on her back hooves for the second time, she took off, hoping to outdistance the similarly four-legged dragon. No such luck. The dragon merely spread its massive wings, launching itself into the air and soaring above her, readily keeping pace. Nova quickly saw there was no way she was going to get away along the path; the dragon could simply follow her until she tired. Locking her knees, she skidded to a halt, turning to face the dragon as it landed with a solid "thump" behind her on the path. It snorted, and a couple of sparks flew from its dilated nostrils. Obviously it was slightly confused as to why she didn't run. Snatching a conveniently placed staff-sized stick from the ground, the filly spread her hooves a little to get better leverage, holding the stick ready. The dragon cocked an eyebrow, which was quite a feat, since dragons don't have eyebrows. The dragon seemed to decide that its snack was entertaining enough, and took a menacing step forward. Feeling very small, Nova pivoted on her front hooves again, snapping her powerful back legs out to catch the dragon on the nose. The dragon swung its snout out of the way, easily avoiding the blow. As it swung ponderously back, the filly whirled, brandishing her staff. She brought it down as hard as she could on the top of the red-colored snoot, cracking the stick in half. The fire-breather blinked at her, as much as to say, "Was that supposed to hurt?"
Dropping the staff from her suddenly nerveless fingers, Nova tried to back away. The dragon's maw opened, revealing a grand row of glistening fangs, and it took another step forward. Her legs, all four of them, gave way beneath her, and she threw up her arms to shield her face, screaming with all her might. Suddenly, the thundering of hooves on the path behind her distracted the dragon, and it looked startled, its mouth still half open. Through her fear, Nova saw a horse leap over her head, wings flared- wait, wings? It wasn't a horse, it was a centaur, his muscular chest heaving, his wings outstretched as he approached the dragon with his bow drawn. The dragon seemed to consider for a moment, and then advanced on the other centaur, mouth agape. The winged centaur's first arrow found its point buried in the roof of the dragon's mouth, and the second was right behind it, piercing the dragon's forked tongue. With an odd squealing sound, the fire-breather's mouth snapped shut, and its eyes started to water. It was thick-skinned, but it had never had to deal with this before. It glared reproachfully at the stallion, and he raised his bow again, arrow ready to fly. The dragon thought better of it, and turned away, spreading its wings to leave the two strange centaurs alone. Folding his feathered wings, the centaur turned to face the filly, who realized with some embarrassment that she was still lying on the ground.
"Are you ok?" His voice was a fine baritone, deep but not too deep. His coat was a light dappled grey, bearing black socks on three of his four legs. His mane and tail were both black, and his tanned skin rippled with muscle as he held a hand out to her. Nova took it, grateful for the support as she splayed her front legs to get the leverage to haul her back feet up after her in the manner of centaurs. His wings were dark grey, complimenting his grey-green eyes as he smiled at her. The filly flushed as she noticed two things. One; she was staring, and two; she still hadn't answered his question.
"Yes. Thank you." The grey kindly chose to ignore her blush, which stood out remarkably well against her dark complexion. His eyes were worried as he looked her over. Truth be told, her heart was still pounding in her ears from the close call with the dragon, it had yet to register the fact she wasn't in danger any more. She felt his hands running over her left foreleg, and suddenly a jolt of pain cause her to flinch with a shallow gasp. Looking down, she saw a nasty cut on her knee from where she had fallen. She stood still, in a daze as he inspected the wound.
"Come." Without a thought, she followed him, into the forest and past numerous dangers, to a small sparkling spring. Under his instruction, she knelt by the pool and splashed some of its cool water onto her knee. Immediately, the cut healed, and she felt better, the daze clearing from her mind. It was a healing spring. She stood, turning to him with a shy smile.
"Thank you very much. I doubt I would have survived that encounter had you not rescued me." Nova bowed slightly, staring at her hooves as she spoke. Her voice was still quiet- she barely spoke above murmur. The winged centaur chuckled quietly.
"No need. I couldn't just let a pretty filly like you be eaten by a dragon. My name is Chey, by the way." Nova flushed again, not looking up.
"My name is Nova. It is a pleasure to meet you, Chey." Glancing up at him, she saw he was smiling slightly, and she quickly lowered her gaze again.
"You have not always been a centaur." Chey observed. Nova, startled, looked up into his face, and cocked her head questioningly. He made a gesture at his own bare (and attractively masculine) chest, then at hers. She understood, and blushed again. "How did you come to be a centaur?" Nova thought quickly, ducking her head to stare at the ground.
"I can't tell you. I'm on a journey…" Chey pondered for a moment, flicking his tail this way and that as he did. With one hand he fingered the point of his bow, which was slung over his back, between his wings. Those wings fascinated the brown-coated filly, but she dared not stare. Chey finally shrugged.
"I see. You are under an enchantment of some kind, and cannot speak of it." Nova hoped he bought the excuse, but stayed silent. She dared not lie. Centaurs never lie. "Good Magician Humfrey, the Magician of Information, could help you. He knows everything. In fact, I was just going to see him myself." Nova had been hoping something like this would happen, and took his hint, asking in her quiet way,
"Would you mind terribly if I came with you?" They agreed that it would be better if she traveled with him, for protection reasons, and for companionship. For, what journey is safe if you don't have a companion? Chey explained that the Good Magician's castle was two day's trot from where they were now, well south of Castle Roogna. They set off together, trotting northeast toward the Good Magician's castle. It soon became clear that the dragon had distracted them for much longer than they had thought, for it was already getting dark. The poor sun grew tired, and slipped over the horizon, burning the distant trees in its haste to flee the growing darkness. Soon the moon and stars were visible, but the centaurs had not found an enchanted path.
"We must stop for the night, but posting a lookout wouldn't be a bad idea." Chey spoke as they came to a halt in a clearing large enough for the both of them to rest comfortably. Nova was already tired, but agreed; she had no wish to have a nighttime encounter with a dragon. They found a nearby potpie bush, and ate their fill, washing it down with cold water from a fresh spring. Chey volunteered to take the first watch. "And when I start getting tired, I will wake you for the next watch." Nova consented, feeling very tired. She lay herself down beneath a soft cottonwood tree, leaning against it to use it as a pillow. But though she felt like she could stay awake no longer, she could not sleep.
"Chey? Why are you seeking the Good Magician?" Chey started, then smiled. Nova didn't speak very often, which was unusual for a girl of her age, and he was unaccustomed to company. He was silent for a moment, and Nova worried she might have intruded into his personal matters. "I'm sorry. It's not really any of my business." Chey shook his head, still smiling. He really did have a handsome smile, though this one was slightly sad.
"No, I understand your curiosity. I want to ask the Good Magician a Question. But I suppose you must first understand how I grew up. When I was a foal, my species, alicenaturs (winged centaurs) was small, and our number few. But there are quite a few now that used transformation springs and transformation stones to make themselves into winged centaurs, and now we are many. But of the winged centaur fillies I have met, none are- well-" He broke off, coughing quietly. Nova understood. He hadn't found one to love yet. It made sense. "Anyway, I'm going to the Good Magician to ask him if he could direct me to my soul mate." Nova nodded. It was a good Question, but he would have to word it carefully to get the Answer he desired.
"But don't you have to pass three challenges to get in the castle, and then serve a year's service to pay for your Answer?" Chey nodded, looking thoughtful. After that, the brown filly drifted off, pondering her own Question.
In case you're wondering, yes. There will be puns in this story, just not as many as I would like. I'm not great at puns. Have fun with the rest of the story though! Review if you have time!